<B>Scott Geoffrion</B> Scott Geoffrion, another star pupil graduated from the Warren Johnson school of drag racing who came to prominence in the mid-1990s as a driver and contemplated an early retirement at the end of 2000, has ...
Scott Geoffrion, another star pupil graduated from the Warren Johnson school of drag racing who came to prominence in the mid-1990s as a driver and contemplated an early retirement at the end of 2000, has revitalized his career. The Southern California native, who ended his association as the research and development driver for Johnson's racing operation following the 1991 season, became a member of the most feared duo in NHRA Pro Stock competition, the Dodge Boys. With teammate Darrell Alderman, Geoffrion had his best season as a driver in 1994 behind the wheel of his Dodge Daytona, winning six races and finishing No. 2 in the point standings. However, the following year, the team became clouded in controversy following a reported break-in at the infamous Wayne County Speed Shop in Indiana in which vandals allegedly destroyed the team's primary engines. The team worked to rebuild from the setback, and Geoffrion's last victory, which came in a Dodge Avenger, was celebrated at Heartland Park Topeka in 1997, the last season he finished in the top 10. Following a trio of unsuccessful seasons plagued by performance and health issues, Geoffrion was released from his Mopar contract by David Nickens at the end of the 2000 campaign and left the sport for more than a year to regroup. When he returned in 2002 at Seattle, he had ended his association with Mopar and was driving a Ford Mustang owned by Pro Stock journeyman Hurley Blakeney. Although the team struggled at first, posting 10 DNQs in 12 races, they turned their fortunes around earlier this season when they unveiled a new Ford Escort ZX2 at Gainesville. Geoffrion has advanced to two final round appearances and qualified as high as second on two occasions, proving once again that he is among the most talented drivers in the 200-mph category. Currently 8th in the NHRA POWERade point standings, Geoffrion is hoping to finish the season in the top five, and make a much-anticipated return to the winner's circle. As Geoffrion enters this weekend's 22nd annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway in Minnesota, he is reflective and optimistic in this Q&A about his extended absence from the sport and what it feels like to be back on the winning track and having fun again in the sport he loves.
Q: How has your transition gone from being a long-time Dodge guy, to now driving a Ford?
<B>Geoffrion</B>: The biggest challenge is that we don't have the engineering support. I am very fortunate that we have hooked up with the Panellas, who have a full-service shop that is second to none. They do everything from cylinder heads to putting the engines together. If you align yourself with good people, good things are going to happen.
Q: What about the reaction from your fans, who have always known you as a member of the Dodge Boys?
<B>Geoffrion</B>: The Mopar fans have been good because they think I got a raw deal at the end. If anything, I have been able to transform a lot of those Dodge fans into Ford fans. Over the years I got to know a lot of the Ford fans because when (Bob) Glidden retired in 1995, those fans came over to our pit and said since they didn't have a Ford to cheer for, they were going to cheer for us instead of another GM. I am having the time of my life right now. I have a great team owner in Hurley Blakeney and he has let me hand-pick the whole team, from the engine builder to the crew chief all the way down. I feel like I have been reborn.
Q: Do you think there's any chance of gaining factory support from Ford for this team in the future?
<B>Geoffrion</B>: We hope so, in time. First I felt that we had to show them that we could be competitive, and we have done that. Then I had to show them that we could win rounds and now I have to prove that we can win races. We've been close a couple of times this season and have been as high as fifth in points. Realistically I feel we can finish fifth or better in the points this season. That's my goal. For an independent, non-factory-backed team with two full-time employees we're knocking heads with the best of them.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges of running a Ford today in Pro Stock competition?
<B>Geoffrion</B>: The biggest thing is that we don't have anybody to share research and development with. The GM guys do a lot of R&D. When Warren (Johnson) develops a better block, or one of the other guys develops something, they all get it. Right now there are no other Fords to share the costs with, and it can be tough at times.
Q: How did you decide to go with Bob Panella to build the engines?
<B>Geoffrion</B>: I have known him for a long time and known his dad and they are extremely honest and ethical people. Hurley is the same way and I wanted him to be involved with someone he could trust. We knew they could do it, obviously, because they won three championships in Pro Stock Truck. When you are a good engine builder, it doesn't matter if you are building go-kart engines. Once you are good at it, you can adapt to anything, and they have rather quickly.
Q: How did you and Hurley get together?
<B>Geoffrion</B>: Hurley called me. I was making sales calls for my father's company down in San Diego at the time and quite honestly I wasn't looking for anything. I was out of it for a year-and-a-half and was enjoying being with my kids at home and really didn't have any desire to return. However, I did say when Dodge let me go that I wouldn't return unless it was in a Ford. Hurley has always bled Ford blue. He called me up and said that his car was starting to run pretty good but he didn't know if he would be able to race with these guys on Sunday. He asked me if I would have any interest in driving the car. I told him I would think about it and call him back. I went about an hour, and my wheels started turning, and I told him that I came from such a political mess with Dodge and (team owner David) Nickens, that I would be up for it as long as he let me hand-pick the team. I told him I didn't want a paycheck until we landed a big sponsor. He said OK, who do you want? We kinda put it together from there.
Q: How has he been to work with?
<B>Geoffrion</B>: He's the best guy in the world. He's just a happy person who knows how to deal with people like somebody I have never seen. He has more than 400 employees at his businesses at home (Blakeney, 69, a longtime NHRA competitor, owns Vermont-based businesses for distributing medical supplies and building furniture for schools). He's a nice, honest guy and he's having a ball. He's going to race too, because we have a second car coming.
Q: How is the development of the second team car coming along?
<B>Geoffrion</B>: Hopefully the car will be ready for Indy (Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, Indianapolis Raceway Park, Aug. 27-Sept. 1). It's going to be tight, but we are hoping it will be ready at that time. There's no rush, no pressure. Once we get the second car on the track that will help our development program tremendously because we will have the ability to change the setup on each car. It is going to help our learning curve.
Q: How do you compare the Escort to the Mustang?
<B>Geoffrion</B>: It's night and day. The Escort is the best race car I've ever driven, bar none. It is so adjustable. Don Ness built a great race car. If you just make a little change the car shows you something. I've never been in a car where you can make a subtle change and you see it on the computer and I feel it in the car. It's amazing.
Q: Since the car is so good, do you see more non-factory teams making the switch over to Ford to be able to run the Escort?
<B>Geoffrion</B>: I don't know. It takes a lot more money to run a Ford. That may happen in time. The body is very good. We don't know how good it is because we've never had it in the wind tunnel. We just know dimension-wise, how small it is. We got the same motor out of the Mustang and put it in the Escort and picked up about two miles an hour and about three-hundredths in elapsed time.
Q: Speaking of the Mustang, what happened in Phoenix on its final ride?
<B>Geoffrion</B>: How about that. I've never wrecked a race car in my life. We had the car sold and it was the last race it was going to run. As fate would have it, it broke a front brake rotor, just disintegrated it. When it broke, it sent me toward the left wall and I thought I was going to hit, and got into the marbles and probably over-corrected it and the car came back around on me and I ended up t-boning the other wall. I was very fortunate to come out of that OK because I've had some back injuries in the past and I did hit awful hard.
Q: What did you do during your extended break away from the sport?
<B>Geoffrion</B>: My dad has a company called National Electronic Alloys and we sell nickel-based alloys to the aircraft and electronics industry and produce semi-conductors, lead-frames, extension-alloys and glass and metal ceiling alloys. It is a very specialized type of business and we have a 20,000 square-foot warehouse out in California and a 45,000 square-foot warehouse back in New Jersey. Some of my buddies that I grew up with run the business at home while I am away racing. When I am there I try to be as involved in it as I can.
Q: You are having a good year, just as Greg Anderson is having success. Both of you guys are products of the Warren Johnson school of drag racing. What did you learn while you worked with WJ?
<B>Geoffrion</B>: Even if you are not the sharpest knife in the drawer, you are going to learn something by just being around Warren. He is single-mindedly the smartest guy out here in drag racing. He has that intensity and knows how to win. On top of that he has a tremendous work-ethic. The way he does things definitely rubs off on you. He's never going to teach you everything he knows, but you certainly will learn a lot by hanging around him and his son Kurt, who is equally as intelligent. I was only there for a year. Greg had the luxury of being there for many years and you see what he is accomplishing now.
Q: You and Kurt remain very close friends. How is your relationship with Warren these days?
<B>Geoffrion</B>: We get along fine. We've had our disagreements in the past, but I've never disrespected him. We've had some falling-outs at times, but that's just racing. It's just how it is. Kurt and I grew up around the race track together and we've been buds for a long time. We kind of laugh at the same stuff. I don't even have to say anything to him and just give him a look and he'll know what I am thinking. It's pretty funny.
Q: In your finals this season you've had to race Greg in one and Kurt in the other. How weird is that?
<B>Geoffrion</B>: If I could get anybody else I might be able to win one of these things. It's been pretty tough. I really don't think anyone thought at the beginning of the year that we would be where we are and as fast and consistent as we are. In qualifying we've made the top half of the field. That's really saying something when you have some major factory-backed teams out here who aren't even getting in.
Q: Realistically, how close are you guys to getting a victory?
<B>Geoffrion</B>: I really feel like any race that I show up for now I can win. I didn't feel that at the beginning of the year. At that time we just wanted to qualify. Then when we started qualifying and going rounds, then boom, we were in a final round. We are absolutely a win waiting to happen.
Q: How tough is Pro Stock competition now compared to the mid-'90s?
<B>Geoffrion</B>: The field was eight-hundredths of a second (separation from No. 1 to No. 16) back then. Now we're talking three-hundredths of a second. It's brutal. It is the toughest class in any form of motorsports, without question. Formula 1 or Indy Car, I don't care. No other form of racing qualifies in such a tight parameter as we do out here. That's what makes it so rewarding when you do well. You know how hard it is. It consumes you and eats at you. But I love it. I wouldn't want to be doing anything else, I can tell you that.
Q: You seem like you have put your Dodge Boys past behind you and moved on. Are you are having fun these days?
<B>Geoffrion</B>: I'm more relaxed. I have moved on. Darrell and I are still buddies. Mopar is involved with a great group of people there now with Allen Johnson. Everything happens in life for a reason and I am a firm believer in that. For whatever reason, that all happened and I have landed on my feet and I am enjoying racing again. I am a big part of this team, not only in driving, but I do a lot of the maintenance on the engines between rounds -- valve springs, carburetor changes and ignition timing and stuff like that. That's all the stuff that's kind of been sitting in the closet that Chrysler wouldn't let me do that Warren taught me years ago. Now I am hands on again and I love it, just like Kurt and Greg. Part of my strength on this team is not only driving, but being involved in the tune-up. My crew chief Eric Luzinski has been a great catch. He's a Donnie Gardner understudy who worked with Tom Hammonds and this is really the first chance where he's been able to show his stuff as a crew chief and his capabilities. He's one of the smartest guys out here with setting the clutch, weight-balance and computer stuff. Hurley and I couldn't be more happy with the job he's doing.
Q: How optimistic are you about achieving your goal of fifth in the NHRA POWERade standings this season?
<B>Geoffrion</B>: We are three or four rounds out of fifth place right now. We are all piled in there together, really close. It's a bigger stretch to get to Warren in fourth and Jeggie (third). Kurt and Greg are in a league of their own. I think fifth place is realistic. At the beginning of the season I set my goal at finishing in the top 10. By mid-season I reset that goal because we were ahead of where I thought we would be.